From Theory into Practice

Sometimes it is laborious to visualize what some theoretical theory really means and how it can be applied. And sometimes, it goes the other way round: you come across some theory that suddenly make sense and help you to magnify practices already in place.
This week’s readings were quite rich and, I thought, the perfect balance between theory and practice. Or theory leading to practice. Or How to Use Learning Theories to Support Students’ Learning.

As educators, we indeed have a responsibility to stay up-to-date with research in order to apply innovative learning theories to our teaching.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

First of all, if we look at the conclusions -and implications!- of Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), it is clear that being immersed in the digital age means much more than “just” being able to access serious online information and culture. Being able to participate in social and recreational activities online is essential too. Adults need to realize that a cultural shift happened and they should remain open to experimentation as this would benefit the education program, by taking advantage of moments when young people are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

“In our work, contrary to the fear that social norms are eroding online, we did not find many youth who were engaging in behaviors that were riskier than what they did in offline contexts.”

Institutions like schools and libraries should also play an active role in granting young people access the internet when it is not feasible to do so at home, to allow their participation in common culture and sociability.
Besides other points that have been noted by researchers, this final one is significant for educators: youth are developing new forms of media literacy that are keyed to new media and youth-centered social and cultural worlds.
Peer-based learning can be very powerful, and should be perceived as such by institutions and educators (and by parents too!); formal instruction needs to evolve and adapt to today’s young people’s practices.

Introduced in 2005 by two publications**, connectivism “is a theoretical framework for understanding learning in a digital age”. It gave, and still gives, a new insight into what it means to facilitate learning nowadays.
In What Does Connectivism Mean for Education?, written in 2012, Justin Marquis explains how the education process needs to be remodeled. And that includes the teacher’s role, but also the student’s one, and technology.
The way teaching is delivered should indeed meet the learner expectations and the physical changes that technology has done to the brains (!).

** Siemens’ Connectivism: Learning as Network Creation and Downes’ An Introduction to Connective Knowledge

Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.” (Siemens, 2005)

With Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Churches), we can start looking more precisely at a practical plan of action as it is a hierarchical model classifying educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity.
Thinking skills and objectives are categorized and put in an ascending order, moving from the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS) to the Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)

Evaluation = Higher Order thinking Skills
Knowledge = Lower Order Thinking Skills

In 2001, Anderson and Krathwohl revised it and considered that creativity was higher within the cognitive domain than evaluation.

Through a Google search, I came across Obiageli Sneed‘s post on Integrating Technology with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the very helpful graphic below: suddenly, you can link toolkits to the different learning stages.
Depending on the project, the ultimate learning goal you want students to achieve, and the competency already acquired, you can start at one level as they don’t all need to be followed in a sequence.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy is a great help for educators as it allows them to select purposefully through all the digital tools available, and make choices based on the kinds of learning experiences they want students to engage in.

Infographic Credit: Ron Carranza

Finally, Bringing the Science of Learning Into Classrooms (Edutopia) is so motivating when it explains how recent research shows that the brain is malleable and, contrary to previous belief, it continues to evolve until young adulthood.
The main consequence being that, despite toxic stress and abusive relationships, both inhibiting the learning, it is still possible to reverse the process, thanks to a trusting relationship with an adult (e.g. a teacher, a counselor…).
Isn’t that wonderful to have science confirming that with proper care and approach to learning, a student can still meet his/her full potential?
There is no such thing as an expiring date on the brain’s capacity to overcome barriers to learning. And educators can have such an impact if they are able to combine social, emotional, affective, and cognitive aspects within their teaching: the student’s brain will make more connections, and it will accelerate student learning and development.

One motto: Authenticity and Efficiency

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The essential question being: “How can we effectively, practically and authentically embed technology within our curricular areas?”, my first take from recent reading is about Geeking Out. Here is why.
Continuing going through Living with New Media from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I could clearly see the value of Geeking Out, being “the ability to engage with media and technology in an intense, autonomous and interest-driven way”. Fortunately it is losing its negative connotation(s) as one realizes that young people are actually pursuing their passion when geeking out, with great learning benefits along the way. And far from isolating them, it requires engagement but also practice and participation in specialized communities. Specialized knowledge networks will derive from these practices and will require from young people, besides accessing the information, to produce knowledge in order to contribute; at this level, lurking is not an option anymore, at least not for very long.
There is no doubt that some of our students are already committed to such networks. Sometimes we find out as they are able to make connections to academic content or are given the opportunity to share their high-level hobbies, through clubs, optional specialized classes or community meetings, or during a conversation.

This wealth of knowledge could be valued within the school, for example to help other students through mentoring programs, or to show how interest-driven learning can be gratifying.
On a personal level, as I am moving away from being mostly a lurker, on my way to becoming more involved and knowledgable in educational technology and digital literacy, reaching out to resource people within my own professional environment make sense, and in the process of looking out for people with a specific knowledge at one moment, it could be a colleague OR a middle or high school student. This is a huge shift in the way knowledge is transmitted: it went from linear with the ex-cathedra model (and no conversation allowed) to multi-directional.

“[…] we’re wise to keep our focus by asking whether we’re just playing with the edtech toys in our classrooms or truly using those edtech tools to leverage and grow student thinking and learning.” (Perkins)

Drew Perkins listed 15 Questions To Ask About Tech Integration In Your Classroom, and they are worth checking! Technology should not be used for the sake of it, but embedded authentically in the curriculum. Every teacher needs to remind him/herself that technology should be used to support student learning and not be the ultimate goal.

A great reference for the use of technology in teaching and learning is the ISTE Standards for students. Published by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit membership association for educators focused on educational technology, it lists skills and attitudes expected of students.
The standard that I can relate to directly as a librarian is number 3: Knowledge Constructor (see below), although, as explained in a previous post, the evolving role of libraries within the school makes obvious others too; for example number 4: Innovative Designer, or 6 with Creative Communicator.
These should be a great starting point to re-evaluate some collaboration projects with classroom teachers, or to build new ones.

Finally, one of my favorite recent read was Cofino‘s 3 Steps to Transforming Learning in Your Classroom: it is clear and very helpful.
NB: notice step 0 that acts as an important reminder!

Step 0: Focus on the Learning

Ask Yourself: What do you want students to know and be able to do?

Step 1: Make It Relevant

Ask Yourself: How can your students relate to this content in their daily lives or experiences?

Step 2: Real World Task

Ask Yourself: What would a professional in this field do?

Step 3: Authentic Audience

Ask Yourself: Who cares about this work?

There are clear connections between Step 1 and the concept of Geeking Out explained earlier: linking the technology-rich project on course content with their personal interests or passions will bring authenticity and, therefore, efficiency.

At this point in the course, the insightful readings, the studies and other articles and recommendations are clearly making me realized what the next steps in my teaching role I need to take. Although our library has been enhancing its offer to classroom colleagues and to individual students, the initiative mainly came from other librarians and/or the technology integrator. I am now looking forward to have a more meaningful role in the process and not only in delivering a tech-rich learning.

Connected Learning and Sewing!

Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito, a passionate expert in young people’s use of digital media, tells us in Learning in Social Media Spaces how informal learning in online communities need to be valued. This is indeed places where students can freely:
– build technology skills
– learn media literacy
– create
– share their work

The challenge for educators is to incorporate in their teaching those three types of online activities already mentioned: hanging out, messing around and geeking out, and create a framework for it, to guide students in a meaningful way. Once again, the survey Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) details its findings; looking more closely at “messing around”, which, as we know, is the start of a more serious, “media-centric” form of engagement, we see that it involves “an interest in and a focus of the workings and the content of the technology and the media themselves”.
At that stage, young people will naturally start tinkering, exploring and will, therefore, extend their understanding of their subject of interest, but also of the digital technology.

The big idea of this section of the course is: “Connections can strengthen learning and open up new learning opportunities“. As we slowly need to start moving away from theory and start practicing, our homework is: what we can learn when with connect with others?
I gave some thoughts to what I wanted to learn right now, knowing that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the quarantine in place, shopping is very limited besides the essentials.
I was a bit puzzled when my daughter suggested it could be an opportunity to (finally!) learn how to sew to mend rips in our clothes! Yeah! I agree!

For years, this was my mother’s job when she came to visit; I even have a box with the basic sewing equipment.

Nostalgia Box

Now that she isn’t coming as often, and has painful fingers due to arthritis, my dear colleague and friend Charlotte took over the job! I would take the tee-shirt with a hole, or a pair of trousers with a tear, to school, and she would very kindly repair it during her lunch break or take it home. I know, I am lucky! <3

Charlotte mending a blouse

But now might be the moment when I take responsibility and repair my own clothes! How should I proceed to learn basic hand sewing, on my own?
It seems like a daunting task.

First of all, let’s find out what Jeff Kaufman‘s theory about self-learning is, as his book title is intriguing: “The First 20 Hours: How to learn anything… Fast“.
Here is how he explains it:

I can identify when Kaufman says that the biggest obstacle is not our lack of abilities but our emotions stopping us: we are indeed often anxious at the start of a new project, because of our level of incompetency: this is normal as we are about to learn something brand new.
[and here we can have some sympathy for our students]
If we get over the fear, and follow these steps, we will be able to learn anything we want to, from a new language to playing an instrument… the list is endless!

Kaufman'steps to learn anything in 20 hours:
1 Deconstruct 
2 Learn enough to Self correct 
3 Remove distraction 
4 Practice 20 hours

Next, I read Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design and it appears to be the perfect sequence, as this research report (led by Mizuko Ito among others) showed the importance of Connected Learning:

A young person should be able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adult

On a professional level, it makes so much sense, and I am happy to see that our library is moving towards that direction as we offer a Library Club with varied activities chosen by students and not all linked to reading but also to technology and crafts, a Creativity Studio with green screen, filming and audio equipment, a board games collection, chess tournaments, the IRIS Award, a reading collaboration program between international Schools in Western Europe since 2016.
It is increasingly more explicit that I need to take the leap from the lurker I was [still is] to at least a connector, and possibly to a creator, as I am one of the caring adults that need to support our student through their Connected Learning journey, either for a classroom project or for a personal one. So far, some colleagues have filled in that role, but I definitely want to join in!

About my own current homework, I might not be a “young person” anymore (still is at heart though!) but, nonetheless, realized that I also need support to put in practice my project. Based on that awareness, here is the plan I developed.

Christel’s 10 actionable steps towards learning basic sewing:

  1. Check sewing-field vocabulary in English
  2. Identify online tutorials in English and in French + WikiHow FR
  3. Phone friend and expert sewer Charlotte with specific questions
  4. Look around for family clothes needing mending
  5. Watch the best tutorial(s) and practice directly
  6. Ask feedback to Charlotte (via video call)
  7. Practice on the other clothes to be repaired
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As I shared my most recent learnings with my family, I was happy to be a connector as my husband decided to apply Kaufman’s theory and learn how to sing Buddhist mantra in 20 hours!

Learning to navigate: being an active researcher

In 2020, we are surrounded by information. It is everywhere, at our fingertips, and we even carry, in our pockets, phones that give us access to a wealth of information that no one could have imagined only a decades ago. Tom Stevenson tells us that We Are Living In The Age of Information Overload and urges us to be selective: less is more, right?
But what exactly is information? Merriam-Webster’s specifies three different meanings: “(1) Knowledge obtained from investigation, study or instruction (2) News (3) Facts / Data”, while knowledge is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”. Comparing both terms show us that a process is needed to access knowledge.
This is what research is. And to have a safe journey through it involves learning to navigate through that sea of information.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

As educators, our role is not anymore to feed students with pre-defined content: slowly but surely the ex-cathedra teaching model has become outdated. Nowadays learning to learn holds more validity than being able to recite facts. In 2016, Erika Andersen explained in a Harvard Business Review article that the concept of “Learning to Learn” is probably the new challenge for businesses wanting to remain competitive.

“Curiosity is what makes us try something until we can do it, or think about something until we understand it. ” (Andersen)

I enjoyed watching Diana Laufenberg TEDx Talk: How to learn? From mistakes. I could indeed relate to her personal experience as a younger student who, unlike her parents and grandparents, had access to printed encyclopedias at home: for the first time information, and therefore knowledge, was not only delivered at school by teachers who were the main keepers of knowledge. In my bedroom, I would often flick through a volume and read a couple of articles (and over the years I must have read most of them, if not all, in those thirty-something volumes!), and when I reached High School, I would look up for some background information before writing essays -my Belgian school didn’t have a library (!).
For Laufenberg, it is clear that as kids don’t have to come to school anymore to get information, the teacher’s new role – more of a mentor’s I would say – is to ask students what they can do with it, and accompany them through the process.

For teenagers, being “connected” is very natural as it has become part of their life. Parents and teachers often think that “hanging out’ with friends, and using new media is a waste of time, as the findings of the Digital Youth Project shows (Living with New Media, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation), but to teens, it is an essential part of everyday communication and part of their identity construction. Being engaged in new media practices in such a way is expanding their technology literacy.
This happens when they are “messing around’, which in this context means experimentation and exploration by looking around, searching for information online, play with gaming and/or digital media production. It requires interest-driven orientation, and usually take place within a social context that will allow sharing. At this stage, it is interesting to note that one of the goals of this three-year-long ethnographic study was to find out how practices are changing “the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning and authoritative knowledge”. How should educators, in the broader meaning (parents, caregivers, teachers) adapt their teaching of the young?

Image by cev_91 from Pixabay

Digital technology, and social media, are part of our lives now, for better and, sometimes, for worse. These unlimited opportunities for communication, although asynchronous – allowing to think twice about what you are texting or posting, can sometimes slip: some children or teenagers can be confronted to harmful loss of privacy, bullying, child sexual abuse as the UNICEF report “Children in a Digital World” points out. Young people between 15 and 24 years-old represent the most connected age group with 71% worldwide being online vs. only 48% total population if all ages are included. One in three under 18 years-old are internet users, and children access the internet at an increasingly younger age.

This is the reason why teachers need to help students take ownership of their digital lives. Last year, Merve Lapus from Common Sense Media spent a few days at our school, The International School of Brussel meeting its administration, its students, parents, and faculty, and working closely with key actors, like librarians and technology integrators, to model Digital Citizenship lessons. ISB then started to pilot the Common Sense Media DC Curriculum during the 2019-20 School Year and will continue to integrate such lessons in order to help students to make smart choices online.
Another recent “hot” topic in the new media is Fake News, and we can, right now, observe an increase of false information during the COVID-19 pandemic, which “is putting [more] lives at risk” claims UN News. Internet users need to learn how to distinguish such fabricated news from legitimate ones. To help our Middle School students understand the many ways this term can be used and how to search for truth in an era of too many Fake News, last January, our school invited the Belgian journalist Tim Verheyden for a lecture on the topic followed by an interesting discussion with students.

7 Steps to IB Level Research @ The International School of Brussels

Leading students to develop a critical mind when it comes to research is indeed a crucial mission for all educators, including teacher-librarians of course! While it is very easy to do a Google search, finding reliable and academic-level information and use it ethically needs guidance and practice.

To lurk or not to lurk?

Image from Pixabay

Week 1 readings gave substance to the reason why I joined the COETAIL program. First of all, a lurker is not a word I was familiar with, so I checked its definition: ” In Internet culture, a lurker is typically a member of an online community or PLN who observes, but does not participate.”
Clearly, without knowing the word for it, I am a lurker (shame on me!). Can I be exempt or even forgiven: part of my job as a librarian is to look up for facts and teach students how to effectively research reliable information, and today it means scouting the online subscriptions and the World World Web.
Well, “part of my job” should give you a hint: nowadays the role of school libraries is constantly evolving and moving away, or at least expanding, from its traditional missions in order to meet students needs and to help them become fully equipped citizens in a rapidly changing digital environment. Libraries are becoming vibrant places where collaboration is natural, and the use of technology such as green screen filming equipment, sound recording… is encouraged if not required. Makerspaces are often part of libraries.
This is why it was enlighting to read about the different types of social media users in Online Personas: Who We Become When We Learn with Others Online (Lloyd, Skyring and Fraser), the main ones being mavens, connectors, and challengers. Interestingly, one individual can adopt different personas on social media depending on the context.

In 2020 students are immersed in technology use, both recreational and educational. As one can read in the first part of the Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) project, the immediacy and breadth of information they have, allow self-directed learning. The new media allow for some freedom and autonomy and can nurture motivation as efforts are self-directed. The outcome will emerge from exploration. It sounds clear that to be successful educators need to be able to provide these possibilities within the classroom.

So, To Lurk or not to Lurk?
Everyone has been a lurker at some point, if only as a newbie. The importance is to rapidly expand our role within the online media and becoming a connector.
As outlined by Cofino in her First Steps Toward Becoming a 21st Century Educator, the powers of web 2.0 technologies are fascinating and revealing as they will help teachers -who must remain learners- communicate, collaborate and connect with other educators, creating a network based on interest, skills and experience.

And when Utecht asks: What does it mean to disconnect?, he redirects the conversation to this essential aspect of the use of technology: are we consuming, using or creating?
So, in reality, he is not, as we might first think, referring to disconnecting from all “screens” but asking how we are interacting with technology. And stating that creating means an active mind at work, and the world need creators, innovators and problem-solvers.
And if our students need to be, so do we. So do I.

“Spending time with technology is not a bad thing… it is how you spend that time that counts” (Utecht)

Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

The image above shows how I feel at the beginning of this journey: I started the trip, climbed some steep steps, the most challenging part is still ahead, but I am looking up to the destination: the sky and trees waiting for me. And then at some point, somehow, you realize that the endpoint is not important: what is, is what you gain along the way, and how you continue to grow.